When you've got a siphon but need a bellows

We blinked and now have just five days of school left. In September, Jack will head to sixth grade, and Oliver to third. It was a really good year for us in so many ways but also offered some challenges. A bully, a new job, changing expectations from teachers and coaches, new instruments and interests, a friend soon to move...

Ever so often, not least in times of forced change like the end of school always is, I am reminded that even the most seemingly smooth lives endure tumult. Even for the most joyous kids, growing up is tough at times. This year, I also relearned that adults don't stop evolving. Nor should we, although such maturation can be painful and tough. Our relationships-with self, friends, partners, family- stall, need work, offer deep happiness, worry us, comfort us, and frustrate. Growing up and growing older have more in common than I once thought.

When I became a mother nearly eleven years ago, I found that life both slowed down and sped up. So many hours seemed to disappear unaccounted for- what had I done other than feed, diaper, bathe, comfort? I loved babyhood, loved the ways my boys smelled -if innocence has an associated scent in concrete form, it's a baby- and felt, loved being able to hold a whole body curled in my arms, loved their little goat bleats and knowing what the varieties of those meant and how to answer and console. I loved the recognition of me in their eyes, loved watching those eyes take in the world around them.

But those same missing hours made many days blur into each other, July rolled into August into September seemingly overnight. And over the past decade, I have periodically paused, as do so many parents, perhaps especially those who stay home, and considered that while motherhood has brought so much to my life, it's also taken. It has taken time, energy, and freedom from my bank and invested that treasure in my kids' vaults. That balance sheet, even when the withdrawals are purposeful and enthused, so often shows various sorts of depletion.

We've all been tired enough to let things slide. We've come home late and fallen into bed without brushing our teeth or washing our face because really, who cares for a night. We've thrown stuff away or into closets instead of putting it up properly because time is short and people are coming for dinner in ten minutes. 

Without realizing it, I think we also do that in some of the relationships we most value. We take for granted that our parents will always be here un-aged, on our side, happy and secure. We imagine that we ourselves will remain youthful, strong, full of the stamina that got us to adulthood in the first place. We think that we really will go to sleep early tonight and exercise tomorrow. We think that our children might be the ones who never sass or say they hate us. We think that our friendships and marriages will last.

My father's mustache is so gray now, my mother has fervently disagreed with me in the past, they have slowed down some, the aches and pains of aging bodies infringing on the ways and speed with which they might sometimes like to live, the ways I hoped they'd always live.

I can now only put my makeup on in an arena of blinding lights. I am still strong and flexible but not infrequently I am afflicted by some sort of physical issue- tendonitis from over-gardening, an idiopathic frozen shoulder, a seizing piriformis, my first grays. I rarely go to sleep early, and I exercise about 50% less than I used to. I am tired 95% of the time. None of that was even on my radar ten years ago.

Both of my children sass, one has definitely yelled "I hate you" on various occasions and I'm pretty sure the other hasn't yet only because he's not of age. They are both exceedingly wonderful, developmentally age-appropriate, and frustrating and tiring on the regular. Also, and no one shares this nugget enough, their bedtimes get later and later, further stripping parents of the quiet alone time evenings once promised. 

Marriage is work. It really is. Vows and rings mean little without tending and gratitude and connection. It is so easy to lose sight of each other, to each take a kid or certain chores and tag team through life. It's so easy, and often appealing, to sink with fatigue onto the couch each night, and to tell yourselves that proximity there in front of the boob tube constitutes closeness. It does sometimes, but over the long haul you realize that roommates also sit together on couches and split chores, and are you married or are you roommates? You smooth things in one way, your partner in another, and over the years you enable and entrench certain behaviors which don't serve much of anything except getting through days easily. This is normal but I'm not sure it's wise.

Friends come and go, and often not the ones you expect. Some of my best college friends are still regular, treasured presences in my life, and others are but memories of the part of my story than happened nearly twenty years ago. It's easy to forget that as we are, everyone else is struggling and succeeding and growing and changing too. In real time. Not all friendships can weather such dynamic evolution.

Meanwhile, time is tight, America seems to be falling apart in several significant ways, some things have to give. We don't always wash our faces and stow things properly, you know?

For some, life nonetheless goes on in largely good ways. For others, this life, this world, all that is asked is harder, takes more, strips more. As would many of us if answering honestly, I have had feet in both realms, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes with full awareness, sometimes not.

The difficult times are when you sense that you're starting to feel like a humorless, one-dimensional version of yourself. As if you've had a siphon hooked to your lungs when what you really need is a sturdy bellows. You look around, and think, "Wasn't it just Thanksgiving? What year is it? Why have the kids outgrown their shoes again? What IS THAT on the sink?"

Two weeks ago, having looked in the mirror and seen Flat Stanley peering back, I grabbed the biggest pair of bellows I could find and plunged a stream of air down my throat. In doing so, I toppled and upended a few things, but instead of hiding them in the closet, I defiantly showed them the light, cleaned them well, and put them up responsibly. Amazing the fullness and fulfillment that can come from rightly inflating oneself.

This post made a lot of sense in my head earlier today when I was drafting it. And then I shelved books in our school library, and sat in the car forever running an errand downtown, went to the store, had two different school pickups, am sweaty and have had a headache since noon, and still haven't eaten dinner or figured out teacher gifts.

So, although I'm not completely sure this is wrapping up and making the points I'd hoped it would, maybe that's ok. Maybe that's what will resonate with you because you, too, are in a time of flux and are feeling slightly manic and also reflective. If you are, don't forget to inhale deeply. Don't forget to invest in your own vault, to wash your face, to get what you do deserve.